1834 Born Glasgow, the third child of Christopher and Mary (née Nettleton), both from Yorkshire families. (Christopher Dresser 1807-1869) an Excise Officer, served in Yorkshire, Glasgow, Sussex. County Tipperary, Cownty Cork and Hereford; he rose to the rank of Collector.)

1847 Entered the government School of Design at Somerset House (later to be transferred to Marlborough House) .

1852 Awarded Scholarship of 15. 00.

1853 Winner of 3 medals and 3 prizes. Re-appointed to scholarship.

1854 Re-appointed to scholarship. Prize for design of 'garment fabrics'. Married Thirza Perry of Maidley. Shropshire (her father, William, was a lay missionary with the City of London Mission). Botanical illustrations and diagrams (for the Department of Science and Art) and now in the print room of the Victoria and Albert Museum appear to date from this year.

1855 Patented a method of 'nature printing'.

1856 Responsible for Plate XCVIII in Owen Jones' Grammar of Ornament, the plate illustrated 'the geometrical arrangement of flowers' -- the accompanying note stated: '. . . the basis of all form is geometry, the impulse which formsthe surface, starting atthe centre with equal force, necessarily stops at equai distances; the resu It is symmetry and regularity'.

1857 Began a series of articles for the Art Journal on Botany asadapted to the Arts and Art Manufactures which continued through

1858 Delivered a paper On the relation of science to ornamental art at the Royal Institution where ideas concerning the application of natural laws to design were developed; these were to be expanded in the Art of Decorative Design ( 1862 ) .

1858 Paper Contributions to organgraphic botany before the Linnean Society.

1859 The Rudiments of Botany . . . and Unity in Variety . . . published. Paper - On the Morphological lmport of certain vegetable organs before the Edinburgh Botanical Society.

1860 Had the degree of Doctor of Philosophy conferred by the University of Jena 'in consideration of services he has rendered to botanical Science'. (The Chair of Botany at Jena was held by M. J. Schleiden, 1804-1881, co-founder with Theodor Schwann of the theory of the cell.) Popular Manual of Botany published. Elected Fellowofthe Edinburgh Botanical Society. Candidate for the Chair of Botany at University College, London. (The Chair was obtained by Daniel Oliver, 1830-1916.)

1861 Elected Fellow of the Linnean Society.

1862 First book on design published - The Art of Decorative Design. Development of Ornamental Art in the International Exhibition published (a critical guide) . Supplied a number of designs for this exhibition. Although he probably knew something of Japanese design, from the small collection acquired by Henry Cole for the Museum at Marlborough House, it was due to the showing of Sir Rutherford Alcock's collection at the International Exhibition that Dresser had the opportunity of seeing a comprehensive selection of Japanese work; he made drawings and purchases from Sir Rutherford's collection.

1865 A sketchbook dating from about this year suggests an interest in the design of silver and plate and a decorative vocabulary that was alreadyfully mature.

1867 Began a series of articles in the Chromolithograph (a short-lived publication in which had been incorporated Nature and Art) on selected examples of work exhibited in the Paris Exhibition of this year. George Augustus Sala wrote of Dresser as the designer of 'beautiful and luxurious carpets' for Messrs. Brinton & Lewis; he also observed '...for some years past the taste and skill of Dr Dresser have been put into requisition by some of the leading art manufacturers both of England and the Continent . . . both as a designer of models and patterns and as a general art adviser . . .'

1868 Last lectured in botany at South Kensington.

1869 Moved to Tower Cressy, a large house on Campden Hill.

1870 Began The Principles of Decorative Design. a series of articles in Cassell's Technical Educator (published in book form 1873) .

1871 Paper- Ornamentation considered as high art beforethe Royal Society of Arts which set out views similar to those expressed in The Art of Decorative Design (1862); Dresser stated: '. . . that true ornamentation is of purely mental origin, and consists of symbolised imagination or emotion only. I therefore argue that ornamentation is not only fine art, butthat it is high art. . . even a higher art than that practised by the pictorial artist, as it is wholly of mental origin . . .' Designed a cast-iron ornamental table and hat-stand forthe Coalbrookdale Company shown at the I nternational Exhibition, South Kensington . Designed a number of brocades for J. W. & C. Ward, illustrated in the Art-Journal, which noted that Dresser's designs '. . . have been of great practical value to many classes . . . of British manufacturers . . .'

1873 Visited theVienna International Exhibition.

1874 Lectured on Owen Jones at Jones' Memorial Exhibition. Dresser spoke of Jones as first having taught him to think '. . . and what was ornament unless it embodied mind ?' Also referred to 5 lectures delivered by Jones in 1849 and their formative influence, Jones was 'the greatest ornamentist of modern times'. The issue, in 20 parts, of Studies in Design begun, Dresser wrote that he had '. . . prepared this work with the hope of assisting to bring about a better style of decoration for our houses'.

1875 Began designing for Elkington & Company, makers of silver and plate.

1876 Left England to visit Japan (in a semi-official capacity) calling at the Philadelphia Centenary Exhibition en route.

1877 Spent about 4 months in Japan and presented the Emperor with a collection of examples of the work of some of the leading British manufacturers, intended to form part of the collection of the newly founded National Museum. Dresser told the Emperor: '. . . For years past I have been an admirer and collector of Japanese objects . . .' Travelled in all about 1,700 miles in Japan visiting temples, shrines and centres of traditional manufacture. Also collected, on behalf of Tiffany & Company of New York, examples of Japanese goods including 'many objectsfor ordinary domestic use' which were auctioned in June, 1877.

1878 Served as Juror (class 22, paperhangings) at the International Exhibition in Paris. Earliest designs for Hukin & Heath (manufacturers

1879 Entered into partnership with Charles Holme of Bradford; trading underthenameofDresser&Holme,thecompanywastoimport Japanese and other oriental wares. Sir Rutherford and Lady Alcock and members of the Japanese legation were among the distinguished guests who attended the opening of the showrooms in Farringdon Road. Begandesigningforthe LinthorpeArt Potteryand acted as 'Art Superintendent'.

1880 Appointed Art Editor of The Furniture Gazette. a position which Dresser held for a year. The first issue under Dresser's editorship contains Owen Jones' Propositions from his Grammar of Ornament (1856) which began 'the decorative arts arise from, and should properly be attendant upon architecture'. Appointed 'Art Manager' of the Art Furnisher's Alliance, established to 'carry on the business of manufacturing, buying and selling high-class goods of artistic design'. (Dresser had only a nominal financial involvement in the Alliance.) Among the manufacturers and traders who had substantial holdings were George Hayter Chubb (who was appointed Chairman), Edward Cope, James Dixon & Sons and A. Lasenby Liberty; Sir Edward Lee, who had organised the Dublin Exhibition of Arts, Industries and Manufactures of

1872 was appointed Company Secretary. Despite support by influential manufacturers the Art Furnishers' Alliance went into liquidation in May, 1883. Decorated the interior and designed much of the furniture of Bushloe House, Wigston Magna, near Leicester, the house of Hiram B. Owston, hissolicitor. (A wardrobe and dressing table from this house are to be seen in the Aesthetic Movement and Cult of Japan Exhibition - also at the Fine Art Society.)

1882 Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures, a lengthyaccount of the visit to Japan, was published; in the preface Dresser wrote of 'a long and painful illness' from which he had suffered during the preparation of the book.

1883 Moved to Wellesley Lodge, Brunswick Road, Sutton (probably an indication of declining fortunes).

1886 Modern Ornamentation published (which included work by assistants and pupils), the book represented 'but one phase . . . of our office work . . . there are no examples of architectural work, of designs forfurniture, glass, earthenware. metalworkorthenumerousthings that emanate from this office'.

1889 Moved to Elm Bank, near Barnes Railway Bridge (probably an indication of improving fortunes) . Apart from designing textiles and patterns Dresser was peobably designing for William Ault's pottery, for Benham and Froud, metalworkers, and for William Couper of Glasgow, glass makers.

1899 An anonymous article in The Studio spoke of Dresser as 'not the least, but perhaps the greatest of commercial designers, imposing his fantasy and invention upon the ordinary output of British industry'. 1904 Died on 24th November, in his sleep. at the Hotel Central, Mulhouse (Alsace) whilst on a businesstrip. Dresser had been accompanied by his son Louis. The net value of Dresser's personal estate was 2,157.5.3. The Builder obituary (10th December, 1904) spoke of Dresser's last years: '. . . he spent most of his time in preparing designs for manufacturers and in the enjoyment of his garden and flowers. 'He was a most genial companion and interesting talker, and never tired of discussion on Art and the habits of the nations of the East, trying to trace their histories by their ornamental forms as a philologist does by their language . . .'


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Last modified 25 March 2010